Patient scheduling is a core business activity for home healthcare organizations, but many are often plagued by inefficiencies within their process. This results in downstream effects on providers’ schedules, the quality of care they’re able to provide, and—ultimately—business viability and revenue.
Healthcare companies regularly contend with shifts in patient schedules due to any number of factors (e.g. sessions that run over time, patients who arrive late, etc.); and inadequate processes and tools can put the entire day’s schedule behind, which negatively impacts the delivery of care. These scheduling inefficiencies put a strain on home healthcare providers, in particular, as traveling from one patient to the next adds another layer of complexity to remaining productive in the face of last-minute changes.
Home healthcare organizations need a more adaptable solution than hospitals or doctors offices, where providers operate out of fixed locations. Unforeseen traffic delays, unpredictable weather, vehicle breakdowns, and more require flexible scheduling solutions that help them maintain productivity and ensure excellent patient care.
Home health providers need strong, technology-based patient scheduling strategies that are adaptable and responsive to the specific challenges they face. With the right approach and a sophisticated scheduling tool, home healthcare organizations can remain efficient, effective, and profitable.
Key Challenges in Patient Scheduling for Home Healthcare
While patient scheduling is a crucial piece of a home healthcare organization’s operational success, getting it right is often a struggle. Businesses must overcome several common challenges, including:
Constant digital transformation
The technologies that drive digital transformation in the healthcare industry have made it easier for providers to keep up with patient demand and gain deeper business insights, too. But many healthcare organizations have been slower to maintain pace with near-constant technological changes for a few significant reasons.
First, upgrading a new tool (or set of tools) can be a hassle. There are a variety of different medically-focused solutions that may not neatly translate from one healthcare use case to another. It’s up to each organization to decide which ones work best for their specific use case, which can be a time-consuming, complicated task. Second, security and compliance concerns are at the forefront of every healthcare operations manager’s mind, and they must carefully evaluate technologies to ensure their patients’ data is well protected.
But as the consumerization of healthcare continues to increase patient expectations and change the ways in which they engage with providers, businesses that fail to become digitally mature will likely fall behind their competitors.
Manual creation and administration of schedules
Healthcare organizations that still use manual processes and tools (e.g. spreadsheets, emails, online calendars, etc) to schedule their in-home providers lack flexibility. Rigid scheduling practices lead to severe operational challenges and impact providers’ ability to remain productive and efficient.
Home healthcare is a female-dominant industry, wherein providers often need to change shifts or cancel appointments last minute due to family requirements. Manual scheduling tools simply cannot handle those adjustments efficiently or effectively, and staff schedulers, providers, and patients all pay the price.
In today’s fast-paced economy where people have high expectations for quality service and interactions, insufficient scheduling also makes it difficult for home healthcare businesses to appear reliable or maintain positive customer relationships. Patient preferences (like preferred caregivers) are difficult to manually track and schedule for, leading to higher levels of patient dissatisfaction.
Patient cancellations, rescheduling, and tardiness can greatly decrease a home healthcare company’s profits and overall efficiency. This is an inevitable part of healthcare, but it presents very real challenges for the business, its caregivers, and patients alike.
Without the right tools, staff schedulers and providers can’t keep up with constant changes, and things start to fall through the cracks. How can they possibly remain as productive and efficient as possible if their scheduling practices (including the tools they use) aren’t flexible and adaptive enough to handle the dynamic, complex scheduling that’s inherent to home healthcare?
When constant scheduling issues significantly disrupt caregivers’ ability to do their work—and force them to provide a compromised level of care because they feel rushed—they start to become disengaged. And since companies with engaged workers are 21% more profitable than those that fail to engage their employees, an inability to manage ever-changing schedules presents a real threat to a business’s viability.
7 Strategies for Effective Scheduling
Despite the obstacles, effective scheduling is certainly within reach for home healthcare organizations. By implementing strong strategies (and adopting intelligent tools for support), healthcare companies can improve their scheduling practices to boost productivity, efficiency, and revenue.
1. Use automated scheduling software
While time-consuming, manual scheduling processes and tools hinder efficiency, cause errors, and fail to meet the needs of a dynamic, complex deskless or blended workforce, automation is well-poised to solve these challenges. By leveraging an automated scheduling solution, healthcare organizations can eliminate the guesswork associated with a manual process.
The right automated scheduling software can intelligently match the right caregiver to the right job at the right time (based on skill sets, certifications, location, availability, patient history and preferences, and more). It can help schedulers and dispatchers get each provider to the next job safely and efficiently with route optimization, which takes into account all the external factors that impact worker travel.
Automated schedules are built around your workforce’s unique constraints and your business’s key priorities (e.g. serving as many patients as possible), so your team can reach its goals. Staff schedulers, providers, and patients can easily adjust schedules without productivity falling by the wayside.
If a patient cancels for instance, the provider is immediately updated and can pick up another appointment to fill that time; so they’re not waiting around to see what’s next. If a provider cancels, staff schedulers can quickly find and schedule a qualified replacement, which ensures a better patient experience and high quality, consistent care.
2. Utilize data collection
Every healthcare organization knows just how vital patient data is to both the customer experience and their overall operations. Access to accurate, real-time data helps caregivers better understand patient history and preferences, and enables the business to make swift, well-informed decisions that boost efficiency and patient satisfaction.
But data collection is time-consuming and has a high margin of error if patients use paper forms in the field, then re-enter that information into a system of record when they return to HQ. This often leads to missing, duplicate, or wrong information, which is particularly risky in the healthcare world.
Providers need tools that allow them to seamlessly capture, store, access, and share data regardless of where they are. Some mobile technologies even work offline, so they can collect patient data in areas of limited network availability and automatically sync that data to a centralized system of record once they find a connection.
This ensures caregivers are always able to deliver the best patient care possible, based on the most up-to-date, accurate information. Plus, real-time data provides the organization with total visibility into their workforce, helping them avoid costly, productivity-killing issues in over- and under-staffing.
3. Keep a patient waiting list
Cancellations are an unfortunate reality for any healthcare organization, and can negatively impact the rest of the day’s schedules (and providers’ productivity and efficiency) if they’re not properly equipped to handle them.
But by keeping a waiting list of patients you can call and slot in if cancellations occur, you can cut down on the unnecessary worker downtime caused by those canceled appointments. This allows both back-office employees and healthcare providers to maintain their productivity and focus on what really matters: Providing excellent patient care to as many clients as possible throughout the day.
4. Use patient self-scheduling
Today’s patients want to take an active role in their care instead of being treated as passive recipients. Keep in mind: They have a plethora of options when it comes to choosing a healthcare provider, so it’s important to keep them engaged in their care and in your business.
One way to ensure this is by implementing patient self-scheduling, wherein they can see available appointments, book them through a mobile app or website, change them as needed, and get the care they want when they want it. The only way to do this effectively is through tools that allow patients to book, and schedulers and providers to see and accept/reject their appointment requests and any subsequent notifications. That way, any new or changed appointments don’t throw an operational wrench in the productivity of your workforce.
5. Implement wave scheduling and modified wave scheduling
With wave scheduling, healthcare organizations book 3-4 patient appointments within a 30-minute time slot. Patients are served in “waves,” so there’s always a patient waiting for care. This allows providers to better prioritize patients based on their needs (e.g. a sick patient will be seen prior to one who’s receiving routine care).
Modified wave scheduling uses the same principles, but with alternating “waves,” meaning the first 30 minutes of an hour are booked with 3-4 patient appointments, while the second 30 minutes are reserved for extenuating circumstances (like delays, appointments running long for extra care, or walk-ins). It’s a great approach for home healthcare organizations looking for more flexibility within the day, since it allows walk-ins and lengthier appointments without creating a domino effect on the day’s remaining schedule.
However, you need software that allows you to easily track and manage scheduling changes for both wave and modified-wave schedules in order to stay on top of the day’s work. Plus, you need a tool that also enables you to send real-time updates to patients so they don’t get frustrated if they’ve booked an appointment but must wait for another patient in more critical condition to be served before them.
6. Implement clustering scheduling
Clustered scheduling is great for providers who are either highly-specialized in serving patients with particular needs, or who like to group their appointments together based on specific requirements to maintain their focus. For example, they may want to cluster together appointments for patients who need recurring care, those who have one-off illnesses, or those who have physical injuries. This helps them stay in the right mindset and shift gears only after one type of cluster has been completed for the day.
Again, this requires a sophisticated scheduling and productivity tool that can handle clustering appointments. If not, it requires a whole lot of manual work on the part of staff schedulers, who must dig through patient information and needs, categorize them into specific groups, then schedule the right provider for the job in relevant clusters. Automated scheduling software takes these factors into consideration and can instantly cluster appointments based on the provider’s needs and preferences, enabling them to remain as efficient as possible.
7. Use automated appointment reminders
Recurring care can become an operational mess if your team doesn’t have the right tools to remind both them and their patients when it’s time for the next appointment. Staff schedulers need to know when to book routine and follow-up care in order to provide better, more consistent service. Recurring visits that are scheduled at optimal times also help patients avoid larger, undetected issues with their health.
Instead of tracking all of these details manually (which is time-consuming and error-prone), schedulers need a system that automatically does it for them. Based on predetermined factors (like time since the last appointment, recommended follow-ups, etc.) the right tool can instantly send out appointment reminders to patients, who can then easily schedule their next visits.
Intelligent Technology for Better Home Health Patient Scheduling
Effective patient scheduling strategies are essential for enabling an adaptive, flexible home healthcare operation. But implementing a successful approach also requires powerful technology that can handle the complexities of deskless work.
Skedulo’s Deskless Productivity Platform is mobile-first and secure, and helps home healthcare organizations increase the efficiency and impact of the care they deliver. With tools for automated scheduling, intelligent job matching, route optimization, seamless data collection, and more, Skedulo can tackle the various complexities of optimizing your home healthcare operation.
Learn more about the secrets of better scheduling for in-home healthcare organizations, or book a demo today.